SpineUniverse Community Advice
Get help and share your story with others who know what you're going through.
Please register or log in to join the discussions!

broken screw after spinal fusion

Started by ccbacksurgery on 06/14/2013 3:09am

I am new to this site and I'd like to thank everyone who has posted their experience with spinal pain in order to lend support to others. Currently, I 'm looking for some answers about my condition.
Here is my history:
*I am a 47 year old female
*During HS, College and approx 3 yrs after was a high jumper and trained 4-7 days a week, so pain in my back was frequent, but certainly not debilitating. Would rest if it got bad, then returned to training.
*Fast forward about 10 years (and two children later) started to experience more frequent back pain, intermittently, It started out as a dull ache, sometimes a few days of bed rest would help, then increased to severe sciatica pain at the 9 year mark.
*Saw my PCP a few months after having my third child because the pain was getting unbearable. She ordered an MRI.
*MRI showed ruptured discs in L4, L5, S1
*PCP called two days later and said exactly this "I am looking at your results and I can't believe what I'm seeing. You have to be in horrible pain". I'm not being a martyr, but it just helped to validate that something was really wrong and it wasn't just a sore back from having three young kids, running around, etc. Maybe it was due to my high jumping training and coupled with age... Not sure, but probably.
*Referred to Neurosurgeon
*Neurosurgeon visit was OK, but Dr. was rather "cocky" (sorry..but he was!) and was very aloof about my situation.
*Treated me with pain meds (UGGGHHH) for approximately 9 months before realizing this wasn't the answer.
*Had a laminectomy
*No relief of pain, probably worsened
*About 6 mos after laminectomy, Dr. was getting "impatient" with me...again...UGGHHH...and said a spinal fusion was the only option he had left.
*Spinal fusion was done . Had a rod put in my spine and hardware at L4, L5, S1. Had about a 6-8 week recovery period that I think was pretty typical..? Bad pain at first, then slowly started to decrease with PT.
*During the following 7-8 years, the pain significantly decreased. Sometimes would wake up in the middle of the night with pain in my hips, butt, or lower back, but nothing too serious.
*At 8 years (almost to the date) after being pretty comfortable and not really thinking about it too much, I started having dull pain in my tailbone. I thought I bruised it working out with a friend who was personal trainer and did our workout outside (sit ups, planks, etc).
*Pain increased gradually from Dec-April.
* In April went on vacation and was so uncomfortable during the plane ride and then on vacation, I was close to tears.
*Appt with PCP in May re: severe tailbone pain
*PCP ordered an XRAY
*Results showed that the screw at L5 had broken in half and there was also a "lucency" on the test at the base of my spine..
*PCP sent my results to a Neurosurgeon (who performed the Spinal Fusion) and he concurred and order a CT.
*Had my CT tonight

OK, so this is where my questions come in after my "novel" above.

1. Could the broken screw be causing my now SEVERE pain in the tailbone area?
2. What does the "lucency" mean exactly and could that be the source of the pain?
3. If the hardware breaks after a spinal fusion, will I definitely need another surgery?
4. What is the recovery period like if I have to have this done?

Sorry this is so long-winded. I am just about ready to jump into the canal. The pain is pretty severe at times, almost worse in many ways than my original pain before the back surgeries. I'm just wondering if I'll have to just live with this, or will some type of surgery or PT be able to stop the pain?

During the last few months, I have been taking Motrin (4 200 mgs tablets every 5-6 hours to stay ahead of the pain). I work in a high school as a guidance counselor and sit for part of the day, and then run around the building for part of the day. I coach basketball and am pretty active, but am finding that when I bend over, I'm OK, but then getting back "up" from that position is terrible. Movement, sleeping, etc is getting increasingly worse.

I don't lift very heavy things, I haven't worked out for months and I have trouble finding comfortable shoes to wear that support my back. I like to wear heels for work, nothing crazy, just the average heel-but I'm finding that it's more painful to even put the shoes on, never mind wear them for a full day at work. I guess I'm just curious/looking to see if anyone has experienced a similar situation and how it is going and/or how it turned out. I'm just a regular person, trying (like all of you on this site) to live a normal, typical life. I never expected to be "pain-free" in terms of my back because looking back at the crazy exercises I did as a high jumper would cause anyone to have a problem with their back. However, this it's getting harder by the day to drive, do laundry, etc...just normal activities. And, again, (like all of you on this site) I'm just wondering if I am going to have to live with it or if I'll need another surgery.

If, by chance, you've actually read this whole post...God Bless You ...because I'm ranting...but any ideas/comments/suggestions??

Thank you and hoping that everyone is feeling OK and finding some type of relief b/c until you've experienced chronic back issues, it's difficult to understand the magnitude of pain that's associated with it and how it impacts your health (physically, mentally and emotionally) and your overall quality of life.

Thanks again and Best of Luck to everyone.

Do you find this discussion helpful?

7 Responses


A lucency on an X-ray image represents an area absorbing less radioactive energy than the surrounding tissue. Lucent areas appear dark compared to the surrounding area. An opacity indicates an area absorbing more radioactive energy than the surrounding tissue and will appear as lighter spots. It also means there could be a air pocket that is showing near your spine.
I believe staying healthy after your surgery 8 years ago is a good idea.
But it may have caused the stress that broke the screws.
You have the same surgery I had. I'm two years in. But I do exercise. But no setups.
Or anything that would strain the hardware in my back. Titanium is strong but brittle.
Stainless steal bends. Titanium brakes like taking a ice sickle and snapping it into.
But try to pull it to brake it and its very difficult . As far as going back in and if they can get the peaces out.
They can replace the screws. But you will go threw all the pain and risks you did 8 years ago.
Plus you now will have a higher risks of more scare tissue. And that can cause problems.
Since my surgery. I treat my back as though the hardware is made of glass.
I do not and will not be cut again. So in short. They can most Likely fix it.
But your risk factor will be higher. It's great you got 8years. Very sorry to hear your having problems.
Be positive though. Talk with your doctor if there's things you don't understand.
My prayers will be with you.


hi ccbacksurgery I had fusions from L1thru to L4 8 screws and 2 rods. My back was also broken. it had been broke for around 40 years I had all this fixed about 2years ago. And everything was going good. until my L5 and s1 cushions went bad. Im about like some of the people that have had fusions. I don't do a lot anymore some of the Issues I having were over stretching muscles. I was told to stop bending. the metal they use for the spine is strong only prob is if you bend to much while your fusion is healing after a while the metals start to weaken and break.. so I get down o my knees and squat all the time. I also use a grabber. If the screw is causing pain from being broke most surgeons would take it out or possibly replace it. they cut into the spine so the metal is really part of the spine now. I wish you good luck take care


omg I have a titanium plate and screws in my c6 and c7 area and now I am very worried about it breaking. the comment that is hear says that titanium is week and could break like an ice sickle. but yes indeed it is wonderful that you try to stay in shape however a surgery of this type will limit you from this type of activity, I am sorry to say it but you must be very carful. and I understand that your doc was cocky? well this is typical because they do not suffer like we do. I suffer so much that I wish I were dead half the time. my pain is around a 8-9 daily on a 10 chart, 10 being the worst, this kind of surgery should be stopped! it is bad, it only makes things worst. meds do as well they cause dependency and they mask the real reason your in pain. I do not believe in meds because I have been on them for so many years now and now I have become dependent on them as well dependent on the docs to write for it. they do not care at all. now I find myself wishing to get off the meds and now it is me who will suffer the DT'S to get off of it and find the help to do it, the docs who put you on it will not offer a solution to help you get off them. I feel it is a game,. our pain is horrible and those docs who do this type of operation do not give a crap about us, they simply have no idea how we suffer..


I had a 360 fusion done on my L4 L5 last March 2014. I had a very bad grade 2 slip and there was no disc left. They put in a cage through my abdomen to separate L4 L5 and to realign them. They put in 4 small screws, two in the L4 and two in L5 to hold the cage in place. They also put in 4 large screws and two rods through my back bolting L4 and L5 together. 2 bolts one rod each side.

I immediately (still in the hospital) had severe what felt like nerves being pinched between the rods and my vertebrae. I had NEVER had nerve pain before and I had to get injections every 2 to 4 weeks after the surgery on top of the rear screws to help block the pain.

The pain got steadily worse and worse and the shots were not lasting as long and eventually stopped working. They did a CT scan on me in November and said that I had about 80% fusion which they said was extremely good given the short amount of time since the 360.

They removed the 4 big screws and two rods in December. I was feeling better at first but was still having what felt like the pinching nerve pain. Doc insisted the whole time that I was not suffering nerve pain and that it was "soft tissue" and "scar tissue" related. I actually had 3 straight of days of no back pain at all in early January and I thought that I was finally completely fixed.

All of a sudden I started having the pain again. It has gotten worse and worse and so bad that I went back in to see the Doc in late January. They wanted to inject me again and I said no. Id been getting the injections with no Anastasia all last year after the surgery and just wanted to let my back have more time to heal to see if the pain would eventually go away without masking it with the shots.

It has done nothing but get worse and worse over the last 3 weeks. I couldn't stand it any longer and went to the doc today and they x-rayed me. The two small bottom screws (ones in L5) holding in my cage have sheered in half. Looks like from the gap and now different angle between the pieces of screws that I have slipped forward and slightly down. Gap between the screw pieces is about 1/8 of an inch. Doc swears that my fusion has not moved and that its ok.

So now on top of still having what feels like nerve pain (shoots through my hip) Im having spine pain like I had prior to surgery again. Feels just as bad as it did prior to surgery. I never had any spine pain after surgery, only the nerve related pain prior to them taking out the screws in December. I never had nerve pain prior to surgery. Now I have both.

Ive done nothing but take it extremely easy during this entire process and can't remember doing anything to have sheered the screws. My back pain is now just as bad as it was prior to the original surgery. Doc is now recommending more injections and then burning nerves.

I am at a total loss of words. The original surgery was horrific and and getting the screws out was almost as bad. I have no idea what can be done now.


My first fusion was done July 30, 2013. They fused L3,L4 L5 putting in a cage with 6 - 8 screws. The pain seemed to ease off a little. Then things went downhill. Pain was awful burning down hips through legs. Decided to go see Dr. because pain was so bad. He took xrays and found that the two lower bolts had broken in two and were compressing on my nerves. He immediately informed me that it all had to come out and redo it with larger bolts so, in April of this year I went into the hospital. They removed old cage and placed new one thAt covered L2-S1. Was in hospital and two days after surgery I got a huge hematoma. The Dr. went b back in washed it all out and stapled me back together. I was in hospital for nearly a month and nothing is better. My pain is unbearable enough with me taking my meds. I go to a pain clinic and they don't give you enough to even lighten your Pain level. I went to Dr today because for a second time my larger two bolts at L5 broke. I was . Told that after three months my smoking and diabetes caused these bolts to break.....PLEASE. Well on 8/18 I go for CT scan to see what can be done. He'd men too ed being in my power chair permanently. I get so depressed I want to just end it all but my family is what keeps me here. Best of luck to all the people who've h ad this surgery and if your thinking about having it make sure you look at all your resources


I know this post is old, but wondered if u found answers or relief? I've struggled with chronic pain with severe back then knees then feet. After years in the medical field, I had to quit taking care of patients and become one myself. I haven't worked in 11 years and got my disability at the age of 38. I was a single mom and this changed everything! Had started with pain management a year prior and went thru meds, injections, etc. In 2010 I finally found a neurosurgeon close to me. Went thru MRI's, X-rays, CT's, etc. trying to pinpoint my excruciating lumbar back pain. My diagnosis was lumbar scoliosis. I had lost an inch and a half at that point. He scheduled me for a laminectomy and fusion, L4-S1. Well, I got 1/2 of an inch back. With severe arthritis and DDD, he said I had the back of an 80 year old when I had just turned 40. I was never sent to PT, but I had a bone stimulator I had to wear everyday. I had no help or support, but noticed as time went on that I was having increasing pain and something was not right. I continued to see him but he couldn't find anything wrong. He suggested another neuro for a spinal implanted neuro stimulator for pain relief. Met with that neuro and had that implanted less than 2 years later. That was awesome! I had it on 24/7. Within months, it was working correctly. Continued to see the neuro that implanted it explaining something was wrong with a lead. It wasn't stimulating and at times I would get zapped out of the blue and it hurt. I explained the same lumbar pain as before. He blew me off saying leads can move, scar tissue can form, etc. I was tired, angry and frustrated! Decided at that point to find yet another neuro for an opinion. After an MRI, it was discovered that I had a screw that had come out and it was sitting in my left SI joint, plus another screw was screwed into a joint space above at L3. I was furious since no one would listen to me or order films to find out if in fact there was something wrong as I was stating. Well, he decided based on films that I was fused so instead of retrieving that one screw and moving the one that was into L3, he decided to remove all of my hardware including the non functioning neuro stimulator, just over a year since my last back surgery. In between these I had torn my right meniscus and had that surgically repaired, then tore both and had surgery again, then bilateral total knee replacements. After hardware was removed I had to have adhesions removed from my left knee. I'm so tired of the neuros not listening to me or just not caring. I then went back to the neuro that had implanted the stimulator and told him I was in worse pain since the rods and screws were removed. He ordered films and told me I was not fused and the instability of my spine had now caused a required fusion and laminectomy at L3-L4. I was so very angry. I had been put thru so much at this point. I continued to complain of excruciating low back pain that had moved up to the middle of my back and was causing numbness and tingling down my left arm and leg. Once again, ignored and X-rays showing nothing. Pain management didn't know how to continue to help. I was on a cocktail of opiates and narcotics, still functioning when anyone else would have died. Enough pain meds to put an elephant down yet my pain was barely controlled. I then went thru many different injections, blocks and even had nerves burnt up and down my lumbar spine. I had worsening left knee pain and development severe foot pain. Ended up with another knee surgery to clean up scar tissue but it changed nothing. In all I had been tortured, cut on, PT for years after each knee surgery which exacerbated my back, and I was worse than ever! At this point I had had 11 surgeries in a 3 1/2 year period! Way too much for a person to handle and amongst all of this, lost my home and everything I ever owned in a wildfire, as I wasn't home and had left to check on my disabled mom 15 miles away. Last year after my last surgery, I started begging the last neuro to send me for new MRI, CT, anything. He finally ordered a CT Myleogram! That radiologist that performed that procedure became so very concerned about what he saw. He couldn't get the dye to move past T12. I had severe stenosis, bone spurs, herniated and bulging discs and worsening DDD. He asked to to go straight to the ER and that he would call the ER to explain my emergency situation and call another neuro to see me there. After all was said and done and I'm crying and in so much pain where I couldn't lay down nor sit up all the way, I couldn't see this neuro since my old neuro had technically ordered the exam. After 7 mg of dilaudid and many attempts to try to lay down for an MRI, I was shipped to another hospital. More dilaudid pushed, still no relief so anesthesia and surgical team was brought in to put me under to get an MRI done. After 5 days in the hospital and no answers or solutions, I had had enough and fired that neuro! Now I spent the past 4 months trying to find another neuro to take my case as all extremities go numb and I fear paralysis with any false move. Every neuro I have called, sent films to, etc. refuses to take me on as a patient and try and help me. It was hard to recover from back to back surgeries surgeries when you are a mom on your own! After many years of dibilatating pain, I feel defeated and feel I have to travel out of state or even the country to get someone to take me and my films seriously enough to want to help!!


Dear Lord, I know this thread is old but I, Nancy Martinez am going to tell my story because reading the story before me written by Nancy Martinez ... gave me a sense that this is what I was suppose to do!

I was a 45 year old flight attendant who had herniated C6/C7. After 2 years of PT which included traction, I was still unable to return to work because I needed to take Vicodin on occasion My best judgement told me to skip the surgery being suggested and find something else that I could do. However after a heated discussion with my now ex-husband I agreed to have the surgery.

I was told about all the terrible things that could happen to me including complete paralysis and agreed to do the surgery. for the man who I had loved for 22 years and who I that that loved me just as much for the same 22 years.

Surgery was a bust; the one thing that they did not tell me about was broken screws which I learned about within months of surgery when I did not get better.

I later learned that because my fusion is up so high in my cervical spine, the only way that anyone will attempt to remove the broken screws/hardware is if the broken screws start backing out which would impinge the cord. It took a while to learn this but when you get the same answers enough times, you finally get the message!

At the same time, I found out that my husband of 22 years was having problems of his own! He was having difficulty seeing his girlfriend on a regular basis since I was no longer gone for 3 or 4 days at a time and the chances that I would ever be able to do my job again were slim to none! So, while I was laid up and in pain trying to find a solution he served me divorce papers.

It took a long time to get my pain to a point that was tolerable. I wore enough fentanyl patches to have killed most people and it still was not enough. I could not do much of anything including living alone!

The one thing that I learned though all this is that there is not any kind of guarantee that you will come out better from these surgeries and unless they are to save your life .... say no!

This lesson came in very useful when I started having lower back pain along with pain that felt like shin splints and got worse from there. I now have DDD, osteopenia, and a host of other problems that go along with my diagnoses.

Things got much better for me after a long period of time, I now need much less medication that I did initially but it is a lucky month and one that is much less stressful when you can find what the doctor has ordered. Also because the DEA has come down on these pain doctors so much, even though I need about half of what I once was on and have many other problems .... it is hard to find a doctor who is willing to prescribe what you need because they value their medical license over their patient or their pain.

My prayers go out to all of you .... May god bless you and keep our pain specialists fighting for us!